All roads lead from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. An unending spine of concrete runs down the centre of the autostrada; an essential accessory for a nation of possessed motorists. The driver bringing me from the airport is no stranger to the dark arts of the highway. I am in Italy hoping the divine inspiration of the place will inspire a couple of weeks of good creative writing. With elegant movements, my driver weaves through traffic at speed to a chorus of beeping horns and unheard curses mouthed by fellow drivers whizzing by in their Lancias and Fiats. They all gesticulate wildly. She flicks her hand at a round man in a dusty Alpha, who in turn thumps the air and roars something that doesn’t look romantic. She looks at me in the mirror and says something about his anatomy. I smile back. She doesn’t realise I speak Italian.
A carnival of speed and erratic overtaking ensues for an hour until we are turning off the autostrada, near Frosinone. From here begins a more civilized journey, although at one stage my pilot overtakes a line of three articulated trucks while talking on her phone to someone about her husband’s gout. My notebook rapidly filling with story ideas… On to Sora where the road continues to ribbon across the verdant Comino Valley. We’re surrounded by huge humps of green mountains on all sides. Tiny hamlets high on the slopes come in and out of view as we snake around bends. Terracotta roofs add splashes of sunned red to the emerald heights. Churches the size of matchboxes are dotted across the valley. If you threw a stone you would hit one of the beautiful chiesas or capellas with their little crosses reminding you that God is close, and by God do you need that reassurance when your driver is hitting concorde speeds while relaying the minutiae of stiffness in body parts you didn’t think gout could affect…
On the outskirts of Sora we pass a dejected looking bar whose canopy advertises Peroni beer although the sun drained it of colour so just the shadow of ‘PERONI’ can be made out on the canvas. Beneath it, men in white vests with leathery faces sit around a plastic table clutching palms of playing cards. They all stare at the car when we pass as if we are the first vehicle to ever travel the road. A dog lies beneath the table, lazy with the afternoon sun. The air is thick with heat, dusty paths along the road abandoned, shutters shield houses from the glare of a determined sun. Hemingway I think, or Kate O’Brien.
Heading towards the mountain village of Casalattico, we pass a bridge festooned with election posters. Septuagenarians steeped in hair dye look almost stately and provocate the electorate with all manner of coiffure and tooth whitening into believing they are the next messiah of the Republic. I spot one who looks like Jackie Healy Ray on a diet of sunbeds and sleeze. He has that twinkle in his eye, that unmistakable glint you see in Italians that confesses satisfactory sins. Jackie Healy Ray, or Salvatore del Duca as he is known around these parts, glints at me and I know I’m going to have to write about him.
A moment later Mad Maxine indulges in another orgy of overtaking. Coming towards us fast as light is a yellow Ferrari. She doesn’t flinch. My heart stops. Gianni Morandi continues to crow on the radio. ‘Dio!’ I cry. ‘Ah parli italiano?’ she asks. As if it matters now that I am about to be engaged to a yellow sportscar. With that, she pulls back onto the correct side of the road, leaving the Ferrari with about 3 yards of clearance. To the sound of his horn as he flies past, I make a pledge to God that if I arrive in the village in one piece, I’ll fill the offertory boxes of every chiesa and capella I see. I will finish my novel. I will even write a love story about me and del Duca.
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